Instructions on the Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer
Acharya Lama Sönam Rabgye
Acharya Lama Sönam Rabgye was born in Manang, a district in Central Nepal that borders with Tibet and is mainly populated by Tibetans. Lama Sönam Rabgye studied Buddhist philosophy at Karma Shri Nalanda Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies at Rumtek Dharma Chakra Center in Sikkim. Having passed all exams with highest distinction and having received the title Acharya, he taught for three years at Karma Lekshey Ling Institute near the Great Stupa of Swayambunath in Kathmandu. Then he participated in the traditional retreat at the Great Monastery of the Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoches, Pullahari Monastery that is situated in the hills near the Great Stupa of Boudhanath. He has been resident Lama at Kamalashila Institute in Langenfeld, Germany, since 1999 and travels extensively, teaching Buddhist philosophy, rituals, and meditation in European centers regularly.
'rDo-rje- 'Chang Thung-ma - The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer, '
composed by Bengar Jampäl Zangpo
Before beginning this weekend course, I want to greet and welcome you kindly and say that I am very happy to offer instructions on the "rDo-rje- €˜Chang Thung-ma," the short prayer that expresses a disciple's sincere wish to realize Mahamudra and that perfectly summarizes the means.
Followers of all Kagyü traditions hold the forefathers of the Kagyü Oral Transmission Lineage in their hearts when they recite "The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer" before beginning the day and before commencing their formal meditation practice. It was composed by Bengar Jampäl Zangpo (approx. 1427-1489), who was a heart-son of the Sixth Gyalwa Karmapa, Tulku Thongwa Dönden (18th Lineage-holder in the Kagyü Golden Rosary of Mahasiddhas). Bengar Jampäl Zangpo became the 19th Lineage-holder in the list of sages and saints of the Golden Rosary of the Kagyü Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and he was the Root Guru of the Seventh Karmapa, Gyalwa Chödrag Gyatso (21st Lineage-holder listed in the Golden Rosary).
Kunkhyen Bengar Jampäl Zangpo meditated in utter solitude for 18 years in a cave situated on a small island of Namtso in Nangchen, East Tibet. Nam means "sky" and tso means "lake," so Namtso means "the lake that is vast like the sky." During this time, Bengar Jampäl Zangpo attained full realization of the true nature of the mind, Mahamudra. Based upon his perfect realization, he composed "rDo-rje- €˜Chang Thung-ma - The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer." That is why this prayer is revered by all past and present Kagyüpas.
When one recites "The Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer" with faith and devotion, one creates a connection with the wise and saintly forefathers of the Kagyü Lineage, beginning with Vajradhara, Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa, Milarepa, and so forth. Due to the blessings that one receives from the Lineage-holders while reciting this prayer with fervent and sincere respect and devotion for them, ones experience and realization of ones formal practice of calm abiding, insight, or Mahamudra meditation will unfold quite easily. Genuine faith and devotion in the forefathers of the sacred Kagyü Lineage are seen as decisive factors by all practitioners, because they lead to realization of Mahamudra. Let us recite the prayer with openness and with faith and devotion and then rest in meditation for a short while together.
'The Short Prayer to the Mahasiddhas of the Kagyü Lineage,
called rDo-rje- "Chang Thung-ma, " composed by Bengar Jampäl Zangpo
Great Vajradhara, Tilopa, Naropa,
Marpa, Milarepa, and Lord of the Dharma, Gampopa,
Knower of the three times, omniscient Karmapa,
Holders of the four greater and eight smaller lineages,
Drikung, Taklung, Tsalpa, glorious Drukpa, and so forth.
You who have thoroughly mastered the profound path of Mahamudra,
Incomparable protectors of beings, the Dagpo Kagyü,
I pray to you, the Kagyü Lamas,
Grant your blessing that we may uphold your tradition and example.
Revulsion (and renunciation are) the feet of meditation, it is said.
Hankering after food and wealth disappears
For the meditator who cuts off ties to this life.
Grant your blessing that attachment to honor and gain cease.
Devotion is the head of meditation, it is said.
The Lama opens the door to the treasure of quintessential instructions.
For the meditator who continuously prays to him,
Grant your blessing that uncontrived devotion will be born within us.
Undistracted attention is the body of meditation, it is said.
Whatever arises, is the fresh nature of realization
For the meditator who naturally rests just so.
Grant your blessing that meditation is free from conceptualization.
The essence of thoughts is Dharmakaya, it is said.
They are no things whatsoever, and yet they arise
For the meditator who reflects upon the arising of the unceasing display.
Grant your blessing that the indivisibility of samsara and nirvana will be realized.
Throughout all our births, may we not be separated
From the perfect Lama and thus enjoy the glory of the Dharma.
May we completely accomplish the qualities of the path and stages
And swiftly attain the state of Vajradhara.
The Preliminary Practices
Homage & Turning to our Lineage Lamas
"The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer" begins with the verse in which followers and disciples recollect the great Kagyü forefathers of Mahamudra and pay homage to them. It is:
"Great Vajradhara, Tilopa, Naropa,
Marpa, Milarepa, and Lord of the Dharma, Gampopa,
Knower of the three times, omniscient Karmapa,
Holders of the four greater and eight smaller lineages,
Drikung, Taklung, Tsalpa, glorious Drukpa, and so forth."
Who is a Kagyü Lama? Vajradhara. Buddha Shakyamuni was the outer emanation of Vajradhara, who continuously manifests the inner Vajradhara in myriad ways. Outer and inner Vajradhara are inseparable. The source of the Buddhadharma is Buddha Shakyamuni, who manifested the inner essence and who therefore was Vajradhara, the Sanskrit name for the Primordial Buddha, translated into Tibetan as Dorje Chang.
What does Kagyü mean? Ka (spelled bKa' in Tibetan) refers to the Buddhadharma, i.e., the words or teachings of the Buddha. The Buddhadharma encompasses the Sutras and Tantras. Originating from Lord Buddha inseparable with Vajradhara, one master received the teachings from another and, having realized them fully, in turn passed them on to his disciples in a continuous stream of an unbroken lineage that is known as Kagyü. The term brgyüd means "lineage," so bKa'-brgyüd means "Oral Instruction Lineage." If one acknowledges that all teachings presented by Lord Buddha in the Sutras and Tantras are available to us due to the oral transmission of the teachings from master to disciple in an uninterrupted sequence, then one can truly appreciate that one is not cut off from the possibility to understand and realize the Buddhadharma too. Acknowledging and appreciating this fact should give us confidence and encourage us to follow these great Siddhas. Mahamudra is divided into Sutra-Mahamudra and Tantra-Mahamudra; both are part of the Kagyü Oral Transmission Lineage.
As stated in the first verse, the Kagyü Lineage gave rise to the four greater and eight smaller lineages, each of which originated with Marpa, Milarepa, and Gampopa. They are the three great fathers of the Kagyüpas who passed on four Mahamudra transmissions (bka'-bab-bzhi) to their disciples. The four transmissions are the continuum (brgyüd) of the instructions that Shri Tilopa had received from Dorje Chang and had perfectly realized. The four transmissions are: inner heat yoga (gtum-mo), dream yoga (rmi-lam), illusory body (sgyu-lüs) of radiant light teachings ( öd-gsäl), and transference of consciousness (pho-ba). Shri Tilopa's foremost disciple was Naropa. I assume that you know the life stories of the Mahasiddhas, so I will only give a short account here.
Shri Naropa (1016-1100 C.E.) was a great Indian scholar at the University of Nalanda, the most famous home for thousands of renowned teachers living in North India at that time. According to the tradition, non-Buddhists and inquisitive followers received answers to their questions from university teachers, and so the four best scholars living at Nalanda University were appointed to be guards at each of the four gates of the compound. Their responsibility was to respond to the variety of statements and answer many sophisticated questions that students and visitors had. The four best scholars were called "gatekeepers of the four cardinal directions." Shri Naropa, who had immense knowledge and a keen mind, was the keeper of the northern gate at Nalanda, so he had to answer questions that people who came from the north asked.
One day, a Dakini, who manifested as an ugly old woman with a wrinkled face and no teeth, approached Shri Naropa. She giggled and asked him, "Son, do you know the words of the text that you are reading or the meaning?" Naropa replied, "The words." Having heard this, the hag was extremely happy - she laughed and danced with joy, because he had spoken the truth. Naropa was really astounded about her reaction and thought, "If I say that I also know the meaning, I will make her even happier." So he told her, "I also have great knowledge of the meaning." She became very unhappy and cried and cried. Naropa was again really surprised. He wondered, "Why was the lady overly happy when I said that I have great knowledge of the words, but miserable when I said that I have great knowledge of the meaning?" Naropa asked her, "When I told you that I am very knowledgeable of the words, you became very happy, and when I told you that I am very knowledgeable of the meaning, you became so, so sad? Tell me, why?" The Dakini, disguised as a hag, answered, "It's true that you have very good knowledge of the words, but you don't have good knowledge of the meaning. If you want to really know the meaning, you need to find and follow Mahasiddha Tilopa. Then you will be able to realize the meaning of the words." After she had said this to Naropa, the Dakini vanished.
Upon having merely heard the name Tilopa, Naropa was overcome with intense devotion, dropped everything he was doing, left Nalanda University, and set out to do as the Dakini said. Having gone through many hardships and finally found Shri Tilopa, he made the request and told him, "Please give me the extraordinary instructions that are the direct introduction to realization of Mahamudra. A Dakini prophesied that you would give me the teachings that would enable me to directly realize the true meaning of the words." Shri Tilopa allowed Naropa to follow him, but - before giving the sacred transmissions to him - he put his disciple through 12 very difficult hardships and 24 less difficult hardships. By having gone through so many physical and mental hardships, Naropa became balanced and, after having received the Mahamudra transmissions from his Guru, was able to spontaneously attain unalterable, direct realization of the true and genuine meaning of the words.
Who was Pänchen Naropa's foremost disciple destined to uphold the Oral Transmission Lineage? His name was Marpa. Pänchen Naropa transmitted all instructions he had received from his Guru Tilopa to Marpa, who was the first Tibetan to receive the Mahamudra transmissions. Marpa Chökyi Lodrö, who has come to be known as Marpa Lotsawa ("the Great Translator") travelled to India three times to receive the sacred teachings from Shri Naropa. There were no cars, no trains, and no airplanes at that time, so crossing the icy snow ranges of the Himalayas from and back to Tibet on foot and walking through the heat of North India was quite something. Based on their karmic link from many past lives and the wonderful fruition of the mutual devotion and respect they had for each other, Pänchen Naropa and Marpa Chökyi Lodrö were able to be together for 16 years and 7 months in all. During this time, Pänchen Naropa transmitted the entire Mahamudra teachings to his heart-son Marpa Lotsawa, who brought them to Tibet.
Why did Marpa Lotsawa have to undertake the difficult trip to India a third time? When Lord Marpa and Jetsün Milarepa, his heart-son, had become inseparable and their minds had merged and mingled, Milarepa had a dream. A Dakini, who had a turquoise-colored face, appeared to him in his dream and said, "You think you have received the entire transmissions of Mahamudra, but this is not so. You still do not have the specific transmission called €˜Pho-ba Grong- €˜jug' ( €˜the transference of entering a residence')." Jetsün Milarepa informed Lord Marpa, who had a list of all the transmissions he had received from Pänchen Naropa and had already imparted to Milarepa. He could not find the name of this transmission in his list, so he was convinced that his disciple was right. Therefore, after he sold land, he had about 150 or 250 gold coins in his pocket and walked to India again to receive this specific Phowa empowerment and the practice instructions from his Guru.
Recently I read something I find very interesting, namely that Buddhism, as it prevailed in Tibet after Guru Padmasambhava had introduced it in the 8th century, is referred to as Nyingma, the "Old Tradition." After King Langdarma persecuted the Buddhadharma in the 11th century and had many monasteries destroyed, Buddhism almost vanished from Tibet. Because of the difficult times, people had books and teachings on Buddhism, but they had to speculate on the meaning. As a result, the teachings became very durcheinander, "mixed up." King Yeshe Ã–d of Guge (a kingdom situated in the farthest corner of West Tibet) realized that it was necessary to have the Dharma clarified and restored. Therefore he invited the renowned Indian scholar, Pälden Atisha (who is also known as Jowo Dipamkara Atisha and who lived from 985-1054) to come and clarify the Dharma for the Tibetans. Jowo Atisha, who assisted translators in their endeavour of rendering sacred Sanskrit texts into Tibetan faithfully and guided students in their spiritual pursuits, stayed in Tibet for 12 years and, together with other saintly scholars, inaugurated the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism that is referred to as Phyi -'gyur gSar-ma, the "New Schools of Later Translations."
While Jowo Atisha was travelling to Tibet, Lord Marpa was on his way to India and they met. Atisha asked Marpa, "Where are you going?" Marpa replied, "I am going to see Naropa." Atisha told Marpa, "Oh, I don't think that Naropa is in this world anymore, but he is in the state of enlightenment. You can search for him, but it will be impossible to meet him. He is already in the Pure Land." Yet, Marpa recalled Milarepa's prophecy and, being free of doubts, he knew that he could not stop seeking his Guru. It wasn't easy, but Marpa found Shri Naropa at Pushpahari, also known as Pullahari (situated near Nalanda University in Bihar). Marpa told Naropa, "I have a student named Thöpaga (which is the name Milarepa was given by his parents). He told me that I must see you again, because I don't have one special instruction and still need to receive it from you." Although he knew it was true, Naropa was greatly surprised. Marpa offered his gold coins to Naropa for the special transmission, and Naropa threw them into the sky. Seeing them land on the ground, Marpa became sad, clamped down a bit inside, and remarked, "The gold coins are so precious to me. I sold my land to give them to you. Why did you throw my offerings away?" Shri Naropa answered, "You and I have a deep connection through our mutual, unconditional, pure motivation and devotion that we established over the course of many past lives and that is why I appeared to you. I don't need your gold, but offered it to the Three Jewels." Naropa continued, "Listen, my son. If your mind is pure and you have the sacred view, then the entire surface of the world is gold." When Naropa heard about the prophecy that Milarepa had made, he was extremely moved, folded his hands to his heart in deep reverence, and said, "Just like the rising sun dispels the darkness of the cold north, Thöpaga has appeared, and I pay homage to him." Naropa bowed towards Tibet in the north and in that moment all the trees in that area bowed in the same direction. The treetops at Pushpahari still lean towards Tibet - you can even see this today.
Having received the specific Phowa empowerment and practice instructions from Mahasiddha Naropa, Lord Marpa returned to Tibet and translated all the texts that he had brought from India into the Tibetan language for the benefit of his disciples, then as well as today. His realization was perfect and pure and he became the Lineage-holder of the complete Mahamudra transmission, fulfilling Shri Naropa's prophecy, which is: "Your sons will be like the children of lions and garudas. Later disciples will be even greater than the previous ones."
Who was Marpa Chökyi Lodrö's main disciple, destined to fully and perfectly realize Mahamudra and to unfailingly pass on the Oral Practice Lineage to his disciples? Jetsün Milarepa. Before looking at his life story briefly, let us contemplate those great masters we have gone through so far for a short while.
Jetsün Milarepa's father died when he was still small and so the youth, his mother, younger, and older sister were asked to be cared for by Milarepa's uncle and aunt until the boy came of age, but they deprived the forlorn family of all their rights and belongings and turned them into slaves. Milarepa's mother was actually a very strong woman who never let anyone dominate her, so she experienced unbearable suffering at the hands of her cruel relatives and indifferent neighbors and only thought of taking revenge. Her sole wish that her son would take revenge was very, very frantic and strong, so she sold land that was left to her and sent him to learn black magic, which is said to be poor people's weapon against injustice. Before Milarepa left home to learn sorcery with the best teacher of those times, his mother told him, "If you do not destroy our relatives, I will commit suicide." Years later, Milarepa succeeded in fulfilling his mother's wish by killing his aunt and uncle as well as 60 people from his village, but he regretted his actions immensely afterwards. Having reflected the infallible law of karma and having contemplated that he would take birth in a lowest hell, Milarepa sought a means to become free of the results of his actions. He met a great Dzogchen Lama who taught him meditation, but Milarepa wasn't able to attain any experiences or realizations through his practice. The Lama noticed this and told him, "We have no deep karmic connection. You should seek Marpa Lotsawa and request instructions from him. He can teach you the means to purify your karma and attain Buddhahood in a single lifetime."
In order to cleanse Milarepa of the negative karma he had amassed, Lord Marpa did not give his disciple transmissions and instructions when the lad found him. Instead, the great translator made Milarepa work hard by ordering him to build and destroy a number of towers over a period of many years. When Milarepa finally received the Mahamudra transmissions and instructions from Marpa, he practiced diligently, attained direct realization of the profound teachings in that very life, and became renowned in both Tibet and India as the Yogi Saint.
Who was Jetsün Milarepa's foremost disciple who would realize and pass on the tradition perfectly? Je Gampopa. Lord Buddha's spoken words are recorded in the "Samadhiraj Sutra" ("The King of Samadhi Sutra"), in which he stated: "In the future, a great Bodhisattva who is a doctor will appear. He will benefit many living beings greatly." Je Gampopa, who was born in Tibet, was an exceptionally gifted aem-chi ("doctor") and could heal and help many people. He married when he was 22 years old. Stricken by an epidemic, his wife and two children died a sudden death. Je Gampopa not only mourned the death of his family, but experienced intense revulsion, which moved him to renounce samsara ("conditioned existence"), become a monk, and enter a Kadampa monastery. One Lama at the monastery was a student of Milarepa, so Gampopa heard about him. While on gung-seng ("holiday") from his studies and practices at the monastery, he heard three sprang-po-gsum ("beggars") talking. The first beggar said, "Oh, I would be so happy if someone invited me to a lavish meal." The second beggar said, "Now, that is really small thinking. You should wish for something better, like becoming the king of this area. Then you wouldn't need to worry about food. At least that wish would be great." The third beggar commented, "King or not - he is impermanent too. If wishes come true, at least we should wish to be like Milarepa, who has no worldly concerns and doesn't need any clothes or food. The Dakinis nourish him and he can fly in the sky." When Gampopa heard this, he experienced a complete wake-up-call and knew that he definitely needed to find Milarepa. Having given a present to the three beggars, Gampopa asked the third one, "Please tell me where I can find him." The beggar replied, "He lives in a cave near Nyenam in the mountains of Lapchi."
Gampopa went through a few hardships before he found Jetsün Milarepa, who knew that his foremost disciple would arrive soon. Milarepa told his disciples, "My lineage will not consist of cotton-clad yogis, re-pas (i.e., practitioners only dressed in a cotton cloth, synonymous for an ascetic), rather it will become a lineage of ordained monks. A monk is on his way to me, and you should go out to meet him." When they were together, Jetsün Milarepa offered Gampopa a cup full of beer to drink. In that moment, doubts arose in Gampopa's mind, seeing he was a monk and thought that alcohol went against his monastic vow. Milarepa saw this and told him, "Have no doubts, my son, but drink." Gampopa drank all the beer in the cup, and Milarepa interpreted this to mean that their connection was very auspicious and that he would impart the entire Mahamudra teachings that he had received from Lord Marpa to him, which he did. Je Gampopa eventually united the Kadam and Mahamudra traditions. His main disciples enabled the Kagyü tradition to flourish and spread. We belong to the Karma Kamtsang Lineage, synonymous with Karma Kagyü, the main lineage that was founded by the First Gyalwa Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa. It is always said that Je Gampopa's two main disciples were like the sun and moon. The First Gyalwa Karmapa is likened to the sun and his lineage has continued in an unbroken succession to our present Root Guru, the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje.
"The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer" continues with step-by-step instructions on how to engage in the meditation practices. One begins ones practice by first turning to the Lamas of our lineage and visualizes them. If one wants to meditate Mahamudra, it is necessary and indispensable to give rise to open-hearted faith and devotion in the Lamas of our lineage. Deep faith and devotion (mös-güs in Tibetan) are the means to truly connect with our Lamas. By sincerely turning to them with gratitude and veneration, one receives their blessings and can accomplish ones aim, which is realization of Mahamudra. The verse in the prayer is:
"You who have thoroughly mastered the profound path of Mahamudra,
Incomparable protectors of beings, the Dagpo Kagyü,
I pray to you, the Kagyü Lamas,
Grant your blessing that we may uphold your tradition and example."
Let me give a short meditation instruction: One sees oneself in ones usual form, in ones body, and visualizes that a little higher and in space in front, at approximately the distance of a cubit, our Root Guru is seated on a throne that consists of a moon-disc that lies on a lotus. We imagine our Guru as Düsum Khyenpa, the first Gyalwa Karmapa, and imagine that we are inseparably united with him. His face is light greenish-brown in color, his hair is grey (he was born with grey hair), and he is wearing the three monk's robes and the Black Vajra Crown of the Karmapas. We should visualize him as clearly as possible so that we are confident that the Gyalwa Karmapa is truly present. Then we imagine Je Gampopa, who is dressed in the three robes of a monk; he is seated above the Karmapa. Seated above Je Gampopa we visualize Jetsün Milarepa, Lord Marpa above Milarepa, Shri Naropa above Marpa, Shri Tilopa above Naropa, and Dorje Chang above Tilopa. You have seen pictures of Vajradhara and know that he is blue in color and holds his arms crossed over his chest; he is the same Vajradhara you visualize when practicing Ngöndro. While visualizing all Lamas in the Refuge Tree, we are confident that our Root Guru, who resides above the crown of our head, is indivisible with the First Karmapa. Then we imagine that the four greater and eight smaller lineage Lamas surround the Karmapa like huge clouds to his right and left sides.
Having visualized the lineage masters clearly and being certain that they are present, we imagine that our lineage masters send light to the pure Buddha fields and it reaches all Buddhas. They bless the light and send it back to our Lamas. The light that has been blessed by the Buddhas of the three times and ten directions melts into the Lamas and then into us and all living beings. We rest in this visualization, confident that we have received the blessings of all Buddhas and our lineage Gurus. During this visualization, in which we turned to the realized saints and requested their blessings, we know that we and all living beings have given rise to the awakened mind of Bodhicitta and still need to realize the true nature of our mind, which is Mahamudra.
The practice I just described resembles the practice we carry out when reciting the prayer, "Calling the Lama from Afar" that was composed by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye the Great. The most important factor is being open and dedicated so that we become a fitting vase to receive the blessings fully. This practice corresponds to the creation stage of meditation and resembles the more advanced practice of Guru-Yoga.
We pray "The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer" while doing the visualization and engage in the completion phase by imagining that the great forefathers, starting with Dorje Chang and up to Je Gampopa and all Lamas of the four greater and eight smaller lineages, dissolve into light and melt into the Gyalwa Karmapa, Düsum Khyenpa. Then he dissolves into light and melts into us. We rest in the experience of being inseparable with our Guru and feel as if milk has been mixed with water. This is the instruction on how to engage in the practice of Guru-yoga in reliance on the "rDo-rje- €˜Chang Thung-ma."
Next in the prayer is a short description of the four preliminary practices of Ngöndro, divided into thun-mong ("general") and thun-mong-ma-yin-pa ("specific" or "extraordinary") preliminaries that I wish to explain now.
The General Preliminary Practices of Ngöndro
"Revulsion (and renunciation are) the feet of meditation, it is said.
Hankering after food and wealth disappears
For the meditator who cuts off ties to this life.
Grant your blessing that attachment to honor and gain cease."
The verse that states that revulsion and renunciation are the feet of meditation means to say that it is necessary for a practitioner to first understand and see the nature of samsara ("conditioned existence," also translated as "inadequacies of conditioned existence"), to the extent of feeling revulsion for samsara and therefore fully renouncing it. But it is necessary to understand and really know what samsara is and what it entails.
It is a fact that we are attached to appearances that we perceive and therefore it is of utmost importance to weaken and diminish our attachment and desire for appearances that we perceive and experience and that we take to be real. It is said that as long as one does not feel revulsion for samsara, one will not renounce it - but, it is easier said than done. One definitely needs profound understanding of what samsara entails in order to renounce it fully. One needs to earnestly look at conditioned existence and ask oneself, "Is samsara really good? Is it worth craving for? Or is it bad? What is good about samsara? What is wrong with it?"
It is only due to the inadequacies of conditioned existence, in which we and all living beings are, that the wish to practice Dharma is born in us, i.e., we engage in practices to become free from samsara due to our dissatisfaction and frustration. In order to become free from the cycles that cause us to experience conditioned existence the way we do, it is of utmost importance to renounce worldly ways. Yet - to be honest - it is impossible for most people to follow the examples of Jetsün Milarepa or Je Gotsangpa (13th century renowned meditator and supreme head of the Drukpa Kagyü Lineage) and to live in solitude in a cave in the wilderness in order to meditate. We live in the world. You work for your living, have friends and kin, and need to learn to practice within the frame of the lives that you lead. The point is recognizing and being careful that appearances and experiences do not overwhelm and cause us to remain entangled in and attached to samsara so strongly, without making use of the opportunity to ever become free.
It is possible to diminish attachment and in the process to help oneself and others. How does one do this? By contemplating the four preliminary practices, which are: (1) the favourable conditions of having attained a precious human birth; (2) impermanence; (3) karma (the "infallible law of cause and result"); and (4) the suffering that samsara inevitably entails.
(1) Contemplating ones Precious Human Birth
When contemplating the favourable opportunity of having attained a precious human birth endowed with wonderful abilities that make it possible to practice the Dharma, it is important to gain assurance that since forever one has had the Buddha nature. Appreciating that we have all prerequisites and therefore have the ability to practice the Dharma and attain Buddhahood is very uplifting and encourages us to make best use of our abilities and the many opportunities at our disposal. It counteracts discouraging thoughts, such as "I don't dare even try," or "I can't," or "I'm a failure," or "I'm not good," or "I'm bad." If we are convinced that we are endowed with exalted qualities and wonderful capabilities, disparaging thoughts lose their grip on us and we can lead a meaningful life. As long as we are not convinced that we have Buddha nature, contemplating the preciousness of having a good human birth will be of no avail.
Buddha Maitreya described in the "Uttaratantrashastra - An Elucidation of the Buddha Nature" in great detail how and in which way all living beings are endowed with the enlightened qualities that all Buddhas manifested and continue manifesting. In this treatise, Buddha Maitreya explained that the purpose of the instructions on Buddha nature are to eliminate five mistakes that impede ones advancement to Buddhahood, the first being belittling oneself. The second error is arrogantly looking down on those less fortunate than oneself, e.g., if one has accomplished a slight goal, looking down on those one thinks have not accomplished anything of the like. The third error is clinging to false views. The fourth error is taking what is not real to be real; and the fifth error is criticizing those who have the correct view. These instructions are presented so that we develop and increase our self-confidence, courage, and determination to practice the path correctly and so that we do not succumb to the five mistakes that impede attaining Buddhahood.
Let me say that whether engaging in Dharma practice or in daily activities, it is very important to do whatever we are doing gladly and joyfully, especially at work. This is very important. Two legs, two hands, two eyes, one body - everything is okay. Apply this in life, for example by thinking, "I have a good life," or "I have a job," or "I have a family" - something like that. If one doesn't appreciate what one has, then how can one acknowledge that one has a precious existence? By acknowledging and appreciating that one has a precious human life and is endowed with amazing qualities, one will be more determined to make best use of ones life.
There are many explanations that list the factors that mark a precious human birth, which most of you know or can read about in "The Jewel Ornament of Liberation" that was written by Je Gampopa or in "The Words of My Precious Teacher" that was written by Patrul Rinpoche (prominent 19th century teacher and author from the Nyingma tradition). In summary, courage and the determination never to give up or be discouraged are crucial for ones practice as well as in daily life. In life, sometimes things go well, sometimes they don't; sometimes one is happy, and sometimes one is sad - nothing is permanent. This leads us to the second preliminary practice, which is contemplating impermanence.
(2) Contemplating Impermanence
When we do our best to face life's hardships courageously, we have the chance to notice that everything changes. Sometimes we are well, sometimes we are sick; sometimes we are happy, and sometimes we are sad; sometimes things go well, sometimes they don't; sometimes everything turns out the way we planned, sometimes everything seems to go wrong - that is normal, because everything is impermanent. It is important to deal with the fact that everything changes and to again and again recall that nothing lasts, that everything is impermanent and subject to change. It is also important never to become discouraged, no matter how difficult things might seem to be. In difficult situations, it is good to remember that neither what one considers bad nor what one thinks is good is permanent, rather that all things lack inherent, permanent existence.
It is also important to appreciate that impermanence denotes a possibility, a chance, and therefore it is not negative. For example, if one thinks one is in a hopeless predicament and remembers that everything changes, then one can experience hope that the situation will change for the better. Impermanence also denotes the possibility to make use of an opportunity to do what one wants to do. For instance, everyone can make use of the many possibilities that naturally present themselves to manifest their indwelling intelligence, wisdom, loving kindness and compassion. All living beings possess the natural ability to have love and compassion for others, which is the manifestation of their Buddha nature when they do. Realizing that everything is impermanent opens our heart and mind for the various and manifold opportunities available to us. The more we understand impermanence, the less dren-shen ("depressed") we will be. Of course, sadness overcomes everyone for various reasons and is justified, but the more we are aware of impermanence and our abilities and the more we appreciate opportunities that naturally present themselves to practice the Dharma, the more confident and open we will be.
Jetsün Milarepa only owned a clay pot when he went to meditate in solitude in a cave. One day he slipped while fetching water with his clay pot and dropped it. The cup broke into a thousand pieces. In that moment he remembered Lord Marpa's words, who taught him: "Knowing impermanence is wonderful." Jetsün Milarepa thought that it was really wonderful knowing impermanence when his clay cup broke and was not traurig, "sad". He thought, "The instructions that my teacher gave me on impermanence are a real benefit for me. Now I realize them." Then he sang a song of realization.
Sometimes life is not easy. When difficult situations arise, it is not helpful to be sad or self-deprecating, because one can become despondent and as a result cannot find a solution. Therefore, in all situations, it is important to remember that everything is impermanent. By looking at the potential and wonderful qualities that one has, one can find a solution and know how to apply it. Like Milarepa. He was not sad and depressed when the only thing he owned, his clay pot, broke - it was a great instruction for him. One needs a little bit of Geduld, "patience." Being fleissig, "diligent," is also sehr wichtig, "extremely important." One will achieve good results if one is patient. This leads us to the third preliminary practice, which is contemplating karma.
(3) Contemplating Karma
Knowing that good actions engender good results and that bad actions engender negative results makes life easy. If one realizes the law of cause and effect, ones heart naturally opens for others and one is always relaxed and in a good mood. This makes everybody happy, which is a result of having contemplated and knowing that karma is true. If, on the other hand, one is sad and depressed, one tends to become aggressive. This makes others unhappy and they worry, "What happened? Always so sad." It's not a good feeling and is also a result. We need to understand this. We all know and experience this, right? It's easy to understand what happens in daily life. In short: When we engage in virtuous activities, the results are positive karma; when we engage in non-virtuous activities, the results are negative.
(4) Contemplating Samsara
The cycle of conditioned existence, samsara, is marked by three kinds of suffering (sdug-bsngäl-gsum in Tibetan). They are sdug-bsngäl-gyi-sdug-bsngäl ("suffering of suffering"), €˜gyur-ba'i-sdug-bsngäl ("suffering of change"), and €˜du-byed-kyi-sdug-bsngäl ("suffering of conditioned existence").
There is a reason the four contemplations are practiced in the order in which they are presented. If one has won a deep and heart-felt understanding of the first three contemplations, then one is prepared to deal with the suffering that samsara always entails and isn't overwhelmed and distraught when having to face one of the three kinds of suffering. But, how does samsara arise? What is the difference between samsara and nirvana, "freedom from suffering and pain"?
The difference between samsara and nirvana is whether or not one is in a state of not knowing, ma-rig-pa, and as a result is driven to act the way one does. As long as one is in a state of not knowing, the experience of suffering as well as transitory happiness will always permeate samsaric existence. But, since everything is impermanent, suffering as well as happiness change, too, in a continuous stream of ups and downs. Struggling to hold on to any happiness and to reject any suffering that one may have due to believing in and clinging to permanence contradicts reality. It is necessary to know that any happiness experienced today can turn into suffering tomorrow and any suffering experienced today can turn into well-being the next day. If one is aware of the truth of change, one is less likely to be sad or depressed when one experiences suffering and pain. When one suffers, it is important to practice Geduld, "patience," and to accept it.
Shantideva stressed the importance of accepting whatever arises with patience in the book that he wrote, entitled "Bodhicharyavatara - The Way of the Bodhisattva." He dedicated an entire chapter to the topic of patience and taught that one form of patience is willingness to accept and bear suffering. If one accepts suffering, then it makes things easier; if one doesn't, it makes things all the harder. So, the aim of these teachings is to apply them in practice - with wisdom and compassion. Try to open, okay? And then try again by using good methods.
When a big problem arises, look to see if there is a solution. If you find a solution, why not try it? If you cannot find a solution, then forget it. Shantideva said, "Just look." For instance, if the nice cup that I have here falls down and cracks and there is a means to repair it, then it is fine and is a reason to be happy. But if it's impossible to repair it, then it's important to just accept and forget it. Then it is easy. Accepting difficult situations and suffering when they occur is what is called "the great." Shantideva said, "That is the great quality." Shantideva taught: "Apply compassion when you suffer." He clearly taught that accepting and dealing with suffering give rise to exalted qualities of worth.
When one experiences anguish and pain, empathy arises in ones mind if one remembers or sees that those who are near or far suffer just as much or even more. Furthermore, knowing that any suffering one experiences was caused by ones own past negative actions and knowing that any happiness one experiences was caused by ones own past positive actions inspire one to diligently do ones best to refrain from non-virtuous activities and to act virtuously. One point worth considering is that in the absence of suffering and pain, these great qualities would hardly awaken or be cultivated by us. Another positive aspect of suffering is that it protects us from becoming arrogant and proud.
A good understanding of the four general preliminaries is a foundation for ones practice and is of utmost importance. If one understands them well, then renunciation of samsara will naturally arise in ones mind and then it makes no difference whether one goes into solitary retreat or lives in the world and associates with people. If one doesn't understand the four general preliminaries well, then entering solitary retreat in a cave high up in the mountains and far away from civilization is useless. Meditating in seclusion or engaging in daily activities in the world are alike if one applies the four general contemplations and integrates them in ones life. Let us now meditate for a short while together.
The Extraordinary Preliminary Practices of Ngöndro
The specific preliminary practices of Ngöndro consist of taking refuge, Vajrasattva meditation, mandala offering, and Guru-yoga.
(1) Taking Refuge
Taking refuge prepares a practitioner's mindstream to become a fitting vase for the main set of practices. A prerequisite for taking general refuge in the outer Three Jewels - the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha - is having the wish to do so. Extraordinary refuge is taking refuge in the inner Three Roots, which are the Lamas of the Kagyü Lineage as they are listed in the prayer as well as the Yidams and Protectors.
As long as one is governed by the five main conflicting and afflicting emotions (desire, aversion, pride, jealousy, and miserliness) that arise due to ma-rig-pa ("not knowing"), anything one does can be seen as a sickness. Ones refuge is the doctor who can heal the sickness, and the doctor is the Buddha. His medicine is the Dharma, the "teachings," and his helpers are the Sangha, the "community of practitioners." Furthermore, the extraordinary refuge consists of the Three Roots, i.e., the Lamas, Yidams, and Protectors. A practitioner takes refuge in the Three Jewels and Three Roots as long as he or she has not attained Buddhahood, which means to say as long as the sickness of conflicting emotions and not knowing have not been completely vanquished in his or her mind. Pride is the main afflictive and destructive emotion that is overcome by taking refuge. And that is why the formal practice of taking refuge is carried out by making prostrations.
Taking refuge can be compared to passing through a gate on the road to Buddhahood. A person has become a disciple of Lord Buddha by taking the refuge vows that accompany the ceremony. One takes refuge with ones body, speech, and mind. When taking refuge with ones body by making prostrations, one touches the ground with five parts of ones body, which are ones forehead, two hands, and two knees. One takes refuge with ones speech by reciting "The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer," as in this case, or by reciting mantras. One takes refuge with ones mind by having the best faith and devotion that one can have. This has been a short description of the first aspect of taking refuge.
The second aspect of taking refuge is generating Bodhicitta, byang-chub-kyi-sems ("the mind of awakening") that opens the door to Mahayana. As mentioned earlier, every living being is endowed with the Buddha nature, i.e., loving kindness and compassion. Bodhicitta is the same as loving kindness and compassion. It is cultivated by allowing ones indwelling loving kindness and compassion to manifest and by developing it more and more.
Bodhicitta has two aspects, relative and absolute. No matter which Buddhist meditation one is practicing (whether one is meditating for five minutes, is reciting mantras, or is meditating a Sadhana), one should never fail to take refuge and to give rise to Bodhicitta before one begins. One arouses and cultivates Bodhicitta by thinking, "Just as I do not want to suffer but wish to be happy, no living being wants to suffer but wants to experience happiness and joy. Therefore we all need to attain the state in which we are free from suffering and pain and in which we experience lasting happiness and well-being. I will practice with the intention to help myself and all living beings achieve this aim." It is very important to commence any practice one does with the pure motivation of Bodhicitta and to uphold it. Then any practice one does will be very beneficial. If one upholds the pure motivation while engaging in virtuous activities as well as during ones formal practice, then anything one does becomes a seed to attain perfect enlightenment, Buddhahood, and is not to be taken lightly. This is the absolute aspect of Bodhicitta. The life of Asanga illustrates how important Bodhicitta is.
As we saw in our discussion of Shri Naropa above, Nalanda was the most prestigious university and monastic center of learning in India. It was through the gathering of the great masters at Nalanda (which was destroyed in the 13th century) that the Mahayana teachings were able to flourish. Nagarjuna (2nd century C.E.) was the most eminent master for expounding the meaning of Lord Buddha's Second Turning of the Wheel of Dharma; and Asanga (4th century) was the main teacher for clearly elucidating the Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma.
Asanga longed to see the future Buddha so strongly that he did not stop meditating Buddha Maitreya for a total of 12 years. He did not attain any results, though, and thought that he would never be able to accomplish his wish to meet Buddha Maitreya face to face. Asanga gave up, left his cave, and came across a wounded dog that was rotting and full of maggots. Asanga was so overwhelmed with limitless compassion and wanted to help, but he realized that if he pulled the maggots out of the wounds, then the maggots would die and if he left the worms in the wound, then the dog would die. He cut flesh off from his own leg to put the maggots on, but realized that if he pulled the maggots out with his fingers, it would kill them. So he drew them out of the dog's wound with his tongue. He couldn't bear to look at what he was doing, so he closed his eyes, lifted them out with his tongue, and put them on the piece of flesh. When his tongue accidentally touched the ground instead of the wound, he opened his eyes and there was no dog. Instead, Buddha Maitreya was standing before him. He saw Maitreya, became upset, and said to him, "What's this all about? I've been practicing 12 years to see you and you never appeared to me." Maitreya replied, "It is not that I was ever separated from you. We were always together, but you couldn't see me, because you still had many obscurations. You had not generated authentic Bodhicitta in your heart and that is why you couldn't see me. Through practicing well, all your obscurations of knowledge and conflicting emotions eventually diminished and, like waking up from a dream, authentic Bodhicitta arose in your heart when you saw the wounded dog and then you could see me." This story illustrates the importance of having genuine loving kindness and compassion and shows that a short meditation of about 5 minutes can be just as significant as a long one.
And so we see that we have to look and check what we are doing. We need to check our mind and motivation regularly by asking ourselves, "Is my motivation right or not?" If one does a short meditation with a good motivation, with good Bodhicitta, then the duration of ones practice is not decisive. Ones motivation is not good if one hopes that others will think that one looks nice, or because the teacher said, "Do that," or because one just wants to follow the tradition.
We, too, complain and wonder, "I've practiced for so long, for 10 years, 20 years, and nothing happened. Why?" Sometimes ones inner mind struggles and one thinks, "I did so much and nothing happened." This happens, and it is home-made. One becomes frustrated, just like Asanga. After 12 whole years of diligent practice, he complained to Buddha Maitreya when he appeared to him. It was extraordinary when he woke up at the sight of the wounded dog and authentic compassion arose in his heart. That was when he met Buddha Maitreya face to face. So we see that we also have a chance to wake up, but we don't know when.
It is necessary not to have too many expectations by thinking, "I want to practice right now, see my Buddha nature, and become enlightened and high." There is no need to have expectations. Just go on, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, ½ an hour every day, whenever you have time, without expectations and with the motivation of Bodhicitta. The result will naturally come - I'm sure. It needn't happen right away, but we will see when we experience dying and death, which will come sooner or later. At that time, we can see how strongly we are connected with the inner quality of our mind, which cannot be shared with anyone else. It is a personal and an extraordinary feeling.
For example, in the district where I was born and grew up, villagers didn't know anything about the Buddhadharma. Even though they didn't know about the Three Jewels or meditation practice, I experienced that they were Buddhists by nature because of their good motivation. Due to their cultural habit, they die peacefully. I have seen villagers stay in meditation posture for 2 or 3 days, even for a week, after they died. The results of their past lives are evident until the present. You have so much knowledge of the Buddhadharma, know the meaning, and if you practice, of course you will be at peace then too.
(2) Vajrasattva Meditation
The practice of Vajrasattva, Dorje Sempa in Tibetan, is carried out in order to purify the mind of the obscurations of knowledge and conflicting emotions. It is also sehr wichtig, "very important." Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye wrote in the book in which he explains the practice of Ngöndro, entitled "The Torch of Certainty," that the karma one creates by having committed one of the five most extreme non-virtuous deeds (hurting or killing a1) ones father, 2) mother, 3) an Arhat, 4) splitting the Sangha, 5) "to draw blood from a Buddha's body with evil intent". and so forth) is purified through the practice and recitation of the 100-syllable mantra of Dorje Sempa. Of course, we never committed such evil deeds, but if we do anything wrong that we are aware of or not really aware of, we can regret, confess, wish to purify it, and do the Dorje Sempa practice. That would be very good.
(3) Mandala Offering
Thabs-gsum-pa ("the third method") is mandala offering, which enables a practitioner to perfect the two accumulations of merit and primordial wisdom and to purify the two obscurations that impede enlightenment. The two obscurations are the obscuration of afflicting emotions and the obscuration that impedes wisdom. These two obscurations are purified by making mandala offerings. There are many different kinds of mandala offerings, which I will not explain here due to lack of time during this seminar. Let me mention, though, that there are outer, inner, and secret mandala offerings.
According to Mantrayana, perfecting the two accumulations (that of wisdom and merit) through the step-by-step purification of the two obscurations leads to attainment of the two Buddhakayas, the two form Kayas and the Dharmakaya. The Dharmakaya is attained when a supreme practitioner has completed and transcended the ten levels of a Bodhisattva; it is equivalent to complete and perfect realization. The two form Kayas, the Sambhogakaya and Nirmanakaya, are methods that Buddhas employ in order to help and benefit living beings; they are manifested by supreme practitioners who have attained the eighth to tenth levels of a Bodhisattva. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on the eighth to tenth levels are alike, but there is still a difference with regard to complete and perfect realization.
This has been a short explanation of cause and result and is intended to encourage you to accumulate merit and wisdom and to purify the two obscurations until complete realization is attained. The fruit of practice is attainment of the two Kayas and the Dharmakaya. Fruition can manifest by practicing and perfecting the extraordinary preliminaries.
The fourth extraordinary preliminary is Guru-yoga, which is practiced so that the results of practicing the first three preliminaries become deeper, more subtle, and boundless in their extent. To achieve depth and vastness, a practitioner needs the blessings of the Lama. We request the blessings of our Lama while practicing Guru-yoga with deepest devotion and respect and with an open mind. When our Lama blesses our mind stream, then our previous practices become deep and vast. Of course, it is possible to receive our Lama's blessings in a great variety of ways, but we receive them more quickly when we practice Guru-yoga.
Also, if you have practiced the general and extraordinary preliminaries, then it will be easier to practice the main body of meditation as well as creation and completion meditations. So, the preliminaries are very important, because you do not know what meditation is. The preliminaries are the ground, the foundation, and are not so easy for you to practice, because you are not accustomed to meditation and have no meditation culture. It's not so easy, because it's really new for you, but step-by-step, a little bit, your mind becomes familiar by hearing, contemplating, and meditating. You need to get a feeling for your practice. Then you can apply it and go deeper and deeper. This is why Bengar Jampäl Zangpo wrote that the preliminary practices are the feet of meditation - they carry us.
Question: Why practice Yidam meditation if it is possible to attain enlightenment by practicing Ngöndro?
Lama Sönam: Yidam meditation, which consists of creation and completion stage practices, is done in order to accumulate merit and wisdom. The practice of a Sadhana of a Yidam will be easier if one was able to establish a foundation through the practice of Ngöndro. It's important to know that one needs all aspects of practice in order to attain fruition. One needs the completion phases of calm abiding and special insight meditation, but there are various means to perfect them. One has to understand that every practice has to be completed. It is possible to achieve complete Buddhahood through the practice of Ngöndro or through taking refuge. They are different methods. The sequence of practice is recommended, because a previous practice makes it easier to practice the next. Warum nicht? "Why not?" In the book, "The Words of My Perfect Teacher," the example is given that three people attained perfect enlightenment on account of a Tsa-tsa, a small Buddha statue made of clay. The story is that a Tsa-tsa was lying on the road and someone came by and thought, "It's not good that this Tsa-tsa is on the road. I must put it in a higher place," which he did. A second person saw it and thought, "If I leave it where it is, then it will be destroyed when it rains." So he placed it on top of his head and then put it back in the open. A third person came by and thought, "Who placed it so that it will be destroyed by the rain?" He moved it so that it was sheltered. All three individuals had a pure motivation and authentic faith. So the Tsa-tsa was the cause for them to attain enlightenment. We have many different stories like this.
Bengar Jampäl Zangpo then described what he called "the head of meditation" in the next verse of "The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer," which is connected to the instructions on Guru-yoga. The verse is:
"Devotion is the head of meditation, it is said.
The Lama opens the door to the treasure of quintessential instructions.
For the meditator who continuously prays to him,
Grant your blessing that uncontrived devotion will be born within us."
Why is devotion so important? Like a treasure, Lord Buddha's teachings are extremely subtle and profound. Usually a treasure isn't left around, but is kept in a treasure-house that can only be unlocked with a key. For a disciple of Mantrayana, devotion is the key that unlocks the door to the treasure-house in which the jewels of the Buddha's teachings are kept. How does one get the key? One needs the right causes and results, first and foremost the oral instructions from a Lama. Our Lama's oral instructions are the key that opens the door to the treasure-house. We need to establish a reliable connection with our Lama and receive instructions from him with which to unlock the door to the Buddha's profound and subtle teachings. Sincere devotion and deep respect are the means by which we establish our connection to our Lama, who is just as dedicated to his disciples as they are to him. Free from the fear of being too near to or too far from one another, mutual devotion and respect that a Lama and his disciples have for each other unlocks the door to the treasure. This is the reason why genuine and unconditional faith and devotion as well as open-heartedness are so decisive in Mantrayana and why we pray the line: "For the meditator who continuously prays to him, grant your blessing that uncontrived devotion will be born within us."
Many Kagyü saints and sages described the significance of the Guru-disciple relationship, illustrated in the simile: "If the sunlight of devotion does not shine on the snow-capped mountain of the Lama's four Kayas, the snow of his blessings will not melt and flow into the valley." Therefore disciples need to develop devotion as best as they possibly can.
Question: I can imagine the feeling of unconditional love, but I always have the feeling that devotion cannot be unconditional. Would you say something about this?
Lama Sönam: Sometimes unconditional devotion can be dangerous. All masters taught that one needs to check ones feelings and be very careful, because often one takes desire as being faith and devotion, which is a grave error. If a follower has attachment for a Lama or master, then he or she hinders the blessings. This is a danger. Sometimes I feel that some people think a Lama is a person they can marry and then they treat him like a future husband. When people see a Lama and disciple close to each other in such a manner, then lots of false assumptions are planted in the minds of those persons. I have seen and felt this - it is desire, not devotion.
Translator: I think in the West we have no habit of devotion, so it's easy to mistake desire, which is the only thing we know, for devotion due to the great openness on the part of the Lama.
Lama Sönam: Maybe therefore.
Translator: People think it must be love.
Lama Sönam: This is a misunderstanding. From the Buddhist point of view, the Guru-disciple relationship is very important. This connection is established through devotion, which is not a feeling of being in love. A Lama tries to be very friendly all the time and tries to benefit people.
There are many different kinds of Lamas - inner Lama and outer Lama. The title "Lama" refers to someone who has very high knowledge. There are different aspects of a Lama - relative and ultimate. In Tibet, we say that there are three aspects of the Lama. The ultimate Lama is the true nature of all things and of our mind. A relative Lama is either an ordinary living being who holds the lineage or a Lama who manifests symbolically. A beginner needs to rely on a lineage Lama. It would be very good for a disciple to rely on a lineage Lama, because he or she could gradually learn to connect with the inner Lama, who is direct perception of the true nature of all things. And so, a Lama is not someone one falls in love with and plans to marry.
Translator: And later divorce.
Lama Sönam: It may be hard to understand this and then there is no communication. A Lama thinks, "Oh, they are my students," and so he tries to help them. But if a student sees it differently, the relationship cannot function. Lamas are also human beings and do not always know what a student needs. He presents nice teachings and meditation instructions that some people actually don't want. So, it is important for both teacher and follower to look and examine each other carefully, maybe even for 12 or 13 years. Followers have to examine and check whether a Lama is really the right teacher for them or not. A Lama also has to examine and check whether a person is really serious or not. If this is done correctly, then a student may find that a Lama is the right teacher and a Lama may find that a disciple is a good student. They both have to check and then it functions. One has to work with that and try to open the door to the treasure, to look at the treasure, and to use the jewels that are the teachings. That is why Bengar Jampäl Zangpo wrote: "The Lama opens the door to the treasure of quintessential instructions."
Once a lady visited me and asked me how she could solve the many problems she had and told me about. I tried to give her advice, but it didn't help her. Then I recommended that she practice the Tara Sadhana in order to clear away her obstacles, but she did not have the text. I told her that she could buy it in the shop of the institute and bring it along so that I could give her the reading transmission. She rushed to the shop, bought the text, and returned right away. I gave her the reading transmission and she didn't leave when I was finished. Then she said to me, "You know, actually I want something else." I was a little bit perplexed and told her, "If you want to do the practice, you are free to do so. If not, try your best to solve your problems." She dropped the Sadhana and left. Sometimes it's not really easy to help people who have expectations that I cannot accept. So, sometimes it is confusing.
A qualified teacher is someone who needs to have good qualities that surpass those of his students. He should have developed and integrated in his life the good qualities that arise from having shes-rab ("wisdom-awareness"). Shes-rab is born in ones mind by hearing the teachings, by contemplating them, and by meditating them. Furthermore, a qualified teacher needs to have great loving kindness and compassion for his students. He also needs to have great patience and an untiring mind, i.e., never become weary of answering his students' many questions. And his pride may only be slight.
A genuine and good student should never feel competitive towards his or her teacher. A good student needs to have a good character, be diligent, compassionate, humble, interested, and enthused about receiving, studying, and meditating the teachings. And it is important that a student has true faith and devotion, just like our Kagyü forefathers, Marpa Lotsawa, Jetsün Milarepa, and so forth. Marpa gave Milarepa lots of trouble, but Milarepa never felt that he had a bad teacher and therefore he realized the inner Lama in that very life. Marpa, for instance, walked to India three times. There were no cars, no buses, and no trains then. He walked, and it was a very dangerous journey. But he accomplished his aim, because he had Hingabe, "deep devotion and sincere dedication." He never doubted and was always certain, "I need these teachings. I want to open the treasure-box." Marpa thought, "Even if I die, no problem, I will go to India because I want to see." That's how determined Marpa was.
Pandita Naropa was put through many hardships by his teacher. Earlier we saw that a Dakini appeared to Naropa and told him that he must receive instructions from Shri Tilopa in order to be able to open the treasure and see the inner Guru. She told him, "You have a connection from your previous life. You must go to him." Naropa had no doubts, was very clear about it, and thought to himself, "I want to realize the true nature of my mind and only this Lama can open the treasure for me. I will do whatever he says." When Naropa found his teacher, Tilopa put him through many hardships. For example, once they were standing on top of a 9-storied building and Tilopa remarked, "If I had a really devoted student and told him to jump, he would." Naropa looked all around, in front and in back, to the right and to the left, but he didn't see anybody. Then he knew, "The Lama means me," and he jumped off the building. It's amazing, or? He was very hurt when he landed on the ground and his bones were broken. Tilopa went downstairs and asked him, "What happened? Are you in pain?" Naropa answered, "Of course. I almost died." Tilopa told his revered disciple, "Yes, your body is like a clay pot. Everybody's physical body is like a clay pot. It has no essence. I will bless you and everything will be fine." Tilopa blessed Naropa, who recovered and learned. Tilopa knew that Naropa was a great scholar and that he was not in need of words, so he gave him trouble and finally the pointing-out instructions. And while going through so many hardships, Naropa never doubted nor felt less sublime devotion for his teacher, because he knew that Tilopa would show him the treasure of his own mind.
Please do not think you can imitate these events. The examples in the life stories of Shri Naropa, Marpa Lotsawa, and Jetsün Milarepa are meant to show that these great Kagyü disciples were connected with a Lama they were assured had truly transcended conditionality in which we find ourselves and therefore are subject to the twelve links of dependent origination. The great disciples knew for certain that their most excellent Lamas had truly won control over their own minds and were free. They were all on higher Bodhisattva levels of accomplishment and the very advanced disciples had received a prophecy, which is exceptional.
Being beginners, we need to rely on teachers who relate to our level of understanding. It's not easy finding a Mahasiddha like Naropa, Marpa, Milarepa, and Gampopa in the 21st century. What can we do? It doesn't matter if we can't find a teacher like the great Lineage-holders, because we are beginners. We can find a good Lama who helps us open the treasure. Look at your feelings about a Lama you meet precisely and see if you have devotion and if he has better qualities than you, like little pride, much patience, diligence, wisdom, and compassion. It is possible to recognize if a Lama is good. You need to connect to an authentic Lama in order to receive the blessings of the lineage. Even though it is almost impossible to find an exceptional master who teaches us like those mentioned above, His Holiness the Gyalwa Karmapa is here and he is our main teacher. It's not possible to see the Gyalwa Karmapa every day and, due to the strict security checks, we cannot talk freely with him. We need a guide and helpers so that we can work on our practice, and we can recognize whether someone is a spiritual friend or teacher. The Sanskrit term for spiritual friend is Kalyamitra, which also means "teacher." Connect with a teacher, practice, and develop your heart. When you progress higher and higher, maybe you can meet Je Gampopa and the Gyalwa Karmapa face to face.
Another important factor is gaining irreversible assurance of ones Guru-disciple relationship and being free of slightest doubts. The firm devotion one has for ones Lama and he has for his students needs to be mutual, i.e., both the disciple as well as the Lama need to have unwavering trust and devotion for each other. Certain that doubt and disappointments will never happen and will not be experienced due to the other, neither a Lama's nor a disciple's heart-felt trust and devotion ever wavers or wanes. Stable and firm trust and devotion are the medium on which the result is swiftly recorded. If a student has very stable and firm trust and devotion in a specific Lama, then merely hearing his name or recalling his qualities touches the disciple so deeply that tears spontaneously come to the eyes or all the hair stands on end. These extraordinary reactions are signs that a disciple has genuine trust and perfect devotion in his or her Lama. This concludes the instructions on the preliminary practices of Ngöndro.
We have looked at the first three verses of "The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer," composed by Bengar Jampäl Zangpo, and - having brought the Kagyü Lineage masters to mind and having paid homage to them - we learned that renunciation is the feet of meditation, because it prepares practitioners to engage in the general and extraordinary preliminary practices. Then we looked at the prayer that teaches that sincere devotion and deep respect are the head of meditation. We saw that it is necessary to develop and again and again practice cultivating and increasing sincere devotion and deep respect for our Lamas in order to receive the lineage blessings so that we experience and deepen our realization while practicing the stages of the paths. We will now look at the fourth verse, called "the body of meditation," that also explains the purpose of meditation practice.
The Main Practices
In these instructions, meditation practice is explained in the Mahamudra Tradition, in which shi-gnäs and lhag-mthong (Tibetan for the Sanskrit term vipassana, "special insight, clear seeing") are practiced in union.
( 1) Calm Abiding Meditation - Shi-gnäs
Calm abiding meditation (shamata in Sanskrit, shi-gnäs in Tibetan) is the first of the main practices. Bengar Jamgäl Zangpo clearly explained it in the fifth verse and wrote:
"Undistracted attention is the body of meditation, it is said.
Whatever arises, is the fresh nature of realization
For the meditator who naturally rests just so.
Grant your blessing that meditation is free from conceptualization. "
The first point that is necessary to follow when one practices meditation is the eight aspects of posture, the most important being sitting straight. A correct posture influences the mind, which makes it is easier to focus ones attention on the object of ones meditation. What is the object of shi-gnäs meditation? There are two, meditation with an object and meditation without an object. There are eight aspects of posture according to "The Treasury of Knowledge," written by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Thaye. I will speak about the seven aspects that help practitioners develop good meditation.
To begin with, the seat or cushion should be pleasant and nice. If it isn't possible to sit in the vajra posture on a cushion, then it is all right to sit on a chair. It's not that important, although sitting on a cushion in the full vajra posture with legs crossed is best, because then it's easier to keep ones spine straight. Second, the right hand should rest lightly on the left hand and held directly under the navel or, if it's more comfortable, the hands can rest on the knees, the right hand on the right knee and the left hand on the left knee. Third, the spine should be held very straight. Keeping the spine straight is a most important point, because then the subtle energy channels in the body will also be straight and the life-force energy that flows through the channels can flow without being constricted. If the life-force energy flows straight, then the mind will be straight, too. Fourth, the shoulders should be level, just as balanced as an eagle when it soars in the sky. Fifth, it's often thought that the gaze should be on the nose, but then one gets a headache. Rather, the eyes should be half-closed and looking about eight finger-widths beyond the tip of the nose, gazing at the object that is there. Sixth, there should be a slight gap between the lips and teeth that are not held against each other, in which case they would cause a grinding sound. The tongue should rest against the palate, which reduces salivation and causes one to swallow less often. Seventh, the head should not be bent to the right or to the left side, rather it should be kept straight and pulled down slightly towards the Adam's apple; it's a very comfortable position for the head. All aspects of the posture are important, because the mind becomes stable and calm when the body is relaxed. For example, one is exhausted after having jogged for 3 hours and feels relieved when one stops, sits down on a bench, and rests. You feel like that when you sit correctly. Don't forget your meditation cushion, your body, and your mind. They are the prerequisites and the tools that we use while practicing shi-gnäs, lhag-mthong, and the union of both.
There are many objects in the world, almost too many, so when preparing to practice shi-gnäs meditation, one chooses one object. There is shi-gnäs with an object and shi-gnäs without an object. Which object is pure and which one is impure? There are many impure objects, like a little stick, or a pebble, or something in ones favourite color, or a nice and soft sound that isn't loud like rock music. One settles into the seven-point posture and focuses ones attention on the object that one chose. One doesn't judge it, because then one becomes restless, but one just gazes at that object and relaxes ones mind on it.
There are many pure objects, too, but we choose a statue or picture of the Buddha, which is a very beneficial support for our practice. In case there is no outer representation of the Buddha available to us, then we imagine the Buddha in space before us and focus our attention on this visualization. It doesn't matter if the representation or visualized image is large or small, seeing that the main purpose of practicing shi-gnäs is holding our mind in one-pointed, undistracted attentiveness. There are a few possibilities when visualizing the Buddha, for instance, having him appear slowly, from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet, and being attentive of each detail during the process. Should it be easier, visualizing the entire image of Buddha instantaneously is also a means to practice. So that tension does not occur, it's important not to exaggerate by meditating for too long periods of time, rather it is recommended to meditate for a short while, to take a break, and then to repeat the practice. It is very important for beginners to practice for a short while and to repeat the practice again and again. And now, let us do a short meditation together by focusing our attention on the Buddha, the pure object.
Question: It was hard for me to visualize with opened eyes, because what I visualized moved.
Lama Sönam: That's good. But if you feel more comfortable, close your eyes more, but not too tightly. If your eyes remain open, then your mind becomes clearer about the object.
Let me now speak about shi-gnäs without an object. Although it is said to be a practice without an object, there are also many objects that can be used to practice shi-gnäs without an object, because in this practice we use objects of the mind, i.e., we imagine the mind by means of the mind. Imagine your dream-house or your Auto, "car." It would be very good to connect your mind with your breath while practicing shi-gnäs without an object. It's also important to sit in the meditation posture, to feel relaxed, and to allow your mind to be at ease. Of course, you need to make the decision, "I'm going to meditate now," or "I'll try my best," or "I'm going to rest my body in conjunction with my breath." You want to experience the practice and enjoy it, so your meditation becomes more meaningful for you if you feel joy and are appreciative, otherwise you will not be in a mood and will force yourself by thinking, "I must try!" In that case your meditation will not be good.
Using the breath to engage in shi-gnäs without an object is practiced by being attentive of ones inbreathing and out-breathing, i.e., shi-gnäs without an object is knowing and recognizing that one is inhaling and exhaling and relaxing ones mind in that awareness. One should not let ones breath go out too far when one exhales nor take in the air from too far of a distance when one inhales. Furthermore, one should not let ones breathing be too short, rather one needs to allow ones mind to follow ones breath while breathing naturally, and one rests in watching ones breathing. This is very important.
The Ninth Gyalwa Karmapa, Wangchug Dorje, taught in "The Ocean of Mahamudra": "Ones breathing is like a horse that ones mind rides on." This is a decisive teaching, because if ones breath doesn't flow smoothly, then ones mind will never be peaceful and calm. If one breathes smoothly, then ones mind will follow naturally and will be calm, too. In the simile, when horseback-riding and the horse jumps, ones body and mind also jump - the same with ones breathing. When the horse moves slowly and heedfully, the horseback-rider also feels at ease and his or her body and mind relax, being at one with the horse. Just like the horseback-rider and the horse, ones breathing and mind are connected and at one.
There is the Tibetan saying: "rLung-sems-dbyer-med," which means "mind and breath are inseparable." rLung is the Tibetan term for prana in Sanskrit and means "wind"; it also means "winds or energy-currents of the body." Sems is the Tibetan term for "the mind." So, when you meditate, then feel, "My mind and my breathing are inseparable." Just concentrate on that and rest. After a few minutes, your mind will become distracted again. It doesn't matter, because this is the natural characteristic of the mind, which is always distracted and makes a lot of dream-houses, dream-cars, and so forth. While doing breathing meditation, feel that your mind is always present. When you forget and get lost in thoughts, be aware that your mind has become distracted, and return to the practice. Whether you are engaged in daily activities (like walking, sleeping, eating a delicious ice cream, or having a cup of coffee), your mind, body, and breathing are always present. So try to watch your breathing and relax into that. It doesn't matter if you are distracted after a short time. Just return to being aware of your body, mind, and breathing.
Another method to become aware of the inseparability of ones body and mind is to count ones breathing during formal practice, in which case exhalation and inhalation are counted as one. You will become very dizzy if you count "one" when you inhale, "two" when you exhale, "three" when you inhale, "four" when you exhale, etc., so do not do it like that, rather count inhalation and exhalation as one, until 21. There is no limit, but 21 times is recommended for beginners. If, for instance, you are able to be aware of your breathing until you count to 10, become distracted, and lose track, then repeat the exercise from the beginning until you manage to count 21 in breaths and out-breaths without becoming lost. If you become a little mixed up while counting, start anew, from the beginning. It's important not to be mistaken about your practice, but to be aware and to start anew when you notice that you have faltered. This is a truly good practice to develop mindfulness and awareness. You become more stable and reliable through this practice. It is a little bit hard for a beginner, because they are not familiar with this practice, but it is done in order to train and balance ones body and mind and as a result to become peaceful. Let us do a short breathing meditation together now, but please don't forget your meditation posture that helps you relax in your breathing.
Our mind is seldom calm and at ease. So there are nine stages that describe in which way a practitioner becomes more and more balanced and peaceful through practicing shi-gnäs. The first stage is engaging in what is called "placing the mind," which becomes longer and more stable the more one practices, so the second stage is called "placing the mind longer." Noticing that distracting thoughts have arisen and have interrupted ones meditation, one returns to the practice through the power of remembering ones intention to practice and continues, which is the third stage that is called "to continue to place the mind." Yet, distracting thoughts arise again and again and interrupt ones practice. One remembers that one intended to meditate, so one continues by practicing the fourth stage that is called "to intensify placing the mind." Through skill that becomes the power of awareness, a practitioner doesn't become discouraged or lost in distractions, rather practices the fifth stage of shi-gnäs, called "taming the mind." This is the stage at which one has the feeling that ones mind is becoming even more wild, like that of a monkey or a mad elephant. One feels discouraged and wants to give up, because one thinks that meditation is nicht für mich, "not for me." As long as one fails to tame ones mind and is governed by ones disturbing emotions and many negative as well as positive thoughts, one is only wasting ones time and that is not good. If one doesn't give up practicing on account of the interruptions that one experiences, one can accomplish the stage at which ones mind becomes tamed. Knowing and being confident that meditation pacifies ones disturbing emotions and frustration and is most beneficial, one continues practicing and reaches the sixth stage, called "pacification of the mind." At this stage, ones monkey-mind becomes more settled and one can be of better service to others, because ones inner qualities of worth manifest more freely and purely. The seventh stage is called "complete pacification of the mind" and denotes an uninterrupted engagement with shi-gnäs meditation due to the power of diligence.
It is important to be aware of ones progress through ones practice of resting in samadhi (the Sanskrit term for "meditative absorption") and to know the faults and obstacles that negative thoughts and disturbing emotions cause. It's extremely beneficial to be able to consciously make ones mind peaceful and calm. The eighth stage that is practiced through the power of diligence is called "one-pointed mind," a state in which one holds ones mind without giving in to interruptions and distractions. During this stage, of course thoughts will arise, but since ones mindfulness and awareness have become stable and firm, thoughts do not overwhelm one anymore and one doesn't worry about them. Instead, one is able to hold ones mind one-pointedly, which means that ones meditation has progressed very well. Through the power of familiarization, one naturally and automatically engages in meditation and reaches the ninth stage that is called "resting in equanimity." So, these are the nine stages that a disciple practices when engaging in shi-gnäs meditation.
You can make a time-table for your Mahamudra practice and engage in shi-gnäs meditation with an object daily for two or three weeks, using the object that you prefer. Then you follow the plan to practice shi-gnäs meditation without an object daily for two or three weeks and go through the nine stages. When you see which practice benefits you most, you continue with that practice.
We went through shi-gnäs with and without an object and saw why it is practiced. We will now look at the second aspect of meditation when one practices Mahamudra, which is meditating the essence, in which case one doesn't use a support and doesn't engage in shi-gnäs with or without a support. Rather, it is the practice of looking directly at any thought that arises. Whatever thought arises while practicing meditation, whether a good thought or a bad thought, one practices recognizing it clearly. The moment a thought arises, one is aware that a thought has arisen and realizes that every thought is an appearance of ones own mind. Whether a thought about white, blue, yellow, a dream-house, a BMW, or a Mercedes arises in ones mind, all these thoughts are appearances of ones own mind. If all thoughts that arise in ones mind are the appearance of the mind, then what is the mind? It was, is, and always will be luminous knowing, also referred to as the ever-present, changeless, true nature of ones mind or Buddha nature. Buddha Maitreya described the true nature of the mind in the "Uttaratantrashastra" and taught: "It is always the same and is just as it ever was."
Mind's true nature is compared with a mirror that doesn't change when objects of various colors, shapes, and sizes are clearly reflected on its surface - the reflections vary and change, the mirror doesn't. Similarly, the mind isn't affected when thoughts of different kinds arise and cease again - thoughts vary and change, the mind doesn't. Irrelevant of the quality of the thoughts that one has, they are all appearances of the mind. Not holding on and clinging to appearances, i.e., thoughts, that incessantly arise and cease in ones mind denotes being free.
Jetsün Milarepa taught his disciples how to look at the many thoughts that they have and showed them how to become free of the fetters that bind to samsara due to clinging to them. Disciples asked him, "How should we deal with the many thoughts that we have?" Milarepa replied by singing a song of realization, in which he described the faults that occur due to clinging to thoughts and the benefit of looking directly at a thought the moment it arises. A practitioner develops and increases awareness of the many thoughts that arise due to mind's luminous cognizance through meditation practice. It's a good sign to see the many thoughts that one has and to feel weary of them. Becoming aware of mind's features, which are luminosity or clarity and cognizance or knowing, means that ones meditation is working quite well. One should continue meditating with diligence and not despair or become lazy.
Jetsün Milarepa taught his disciples that the purpose of meditation practice is to realize that all appearances and experiences are manifestations of the mind. He told them: "Not seeing and not knowing that thoughts are appearances of the mind is samsara. Realizing that all appearances are manifestations of mind's indwelling creativity is realization of the Dharmakaya. If you realize the Dharmakaya, then you are not in need of another view." And so, the practice consists of directly looking at the nature of ones mind and not being attached to or rejecting things one might think are either good or bad. One doesn't manipulate ones mind, but one just leaves it in its true nature - just as it is.
Jetsün Milarepa taught five ways to meditate shi-gnäs and wrote:
"Rest in the nature of your mind like a child.
Rest like an ocean without waves.
Rest with clarity like a lamp.
Rest without being affected like a corpse.
Rest unmoving like a mountain."
In the first simile, Milarepa taught his disciples to be open like a little child that has just entered a temple. A little child sees everything clearly when it enters a temple, but the child has no thoughts about the objects it perceives, like a Buddha statue, or about red, green, and blue colours. Instead, the child allows its perception of appearances to just be. If you can be like a child entering a temple, then any thought that arises becomes a support for your meditation, because you do not grasp and are not attached to it. In contrast, when we enter a temple, we look around and think, "What a nice Buddha statue. I want to buy one that looks just like that." We perpetuate further thoughts and wonder, "Who can tell me where I can buy one?" Our mind grasps at thoughts that we think, like, "A good thankha. A good statue. Wow, what a nice meditation room." That's the problem. If we are able to let a thought be and to just see that it comes and goes, then we are progressing in our practice.
Karma Chagme (17th century master who established the Nyedo Kagyü Tradition) wrote: "Many thoughts arise in my mind, but they do not disturb my meditation, just like falling rain does not disturb the ocean." This means to say that when it rains on the ocean, the raindrops mix and mingle with the ocean's water. Likewise, when thoughts are recognized to be a feature of the mind that is like the ocean, one lets one thought come and go, and then one lets the next thought come and go, and so on. Without needing to struggle, one just looks at the heavy or light raindrops (that are like ones thoughts) fall on the vast ocean (that is like ones mind) and watches them mix and mingle, the one not harming or impeding the other. One becomes familiar with this experience through meditation practice - slowly, slowly, slowly - and eventually one becomes like a little child entering a temple.
The second simile in the meditation instruction that Milarepa composed is: "Rest like an ocean without waves." In the third simile he taught: "Rest with clarity like a lamp." In the fourth simile he taught: "Rest without being complacent like a corpse." A corpse doesn't cling to anything anymore and has no more disturbing emotions and mind poisons. Fifth is: "Rest unmoving like a mountain." In these five similes, Milarepa perfectly showed how to practice. The five practices are very important in Mahamudra. Let us meditate together for a short while and look directly at any thought that arises. If no thought arises, then create lots of thoughts and look at them.
Student: Thoughts arose so fast and resembled playing children.
Lama Sönam: Is that why you are laughing now?
Same student: It was fun. Everything went too fast for me.
Lama Sönam: That's good. It's the first experience.
You can use any of the five examples that Milarepa presented in order to learn to balance your mind and thoughts and to relax in that. You can go through each practice and use one simile, for example, meditate being like a child entering a temple for a few days and the following days practice how it feels to be like an ocean without waves. If you don't feel the practice, then there is no benefit. Practice another example on another day and without lethargy feel what it's like when the mind becomes clear like a shining lamp. Of course, sometimes it's not easy and then you apply mindfulness and awareness and return to the practice of feeling like an ocean without waves or like the clear light of a lamp. It doesn't matter if you have angry, sad, or aggressive thoughts or thoughts about whether a self exists, because in your meditation you are merely experiencing that a thought has come and gone again and, without clinging to those fleeting thoughts, you rest in your indwelling, changeless true nature as though it is the ocean, or a temple, or a corpse. Milarepa gave the fourth example of resting in the true nature of the mind as though it is a corpse, because a dead body is not influenced if anybody says bad things about it or shouts at it, because it has no thoughts and feelings. In the same way, you do not attend to thoughts that come and go and are not distracted from holding your basic ground, which is the true nature of your mind. The fifth simile that Milarepa offered his disciples on how to practice is: "Rest unmoving like a mountain." Not even a hurricane or tornado can blow away a mountain that remains stable and firm. In the same manner, during shi-gnäs meditation, a practitioner rests in the true nature without being moved by thoughts.
A student who is able to directly look at thoughts that arise without grasping for or clinging to them is a good shi-gnäs practitioner. Realizing that a thought is a thought and letting it go is the first aspect of the main meditation practices, which is shi-gnäs. The second aspect of the main practices is realizing that a thought is an appearance of ones own mind, in other words, directly seeing and immediately recognizing that thoughts are the unceasing manifestation or display of ones own mind. This is attained through practicing shi-gnäs and lhag-mthong ("special insight, clear seeing").
Kunkhyen Bengar Jamgäl Zangpo clearly and precisely explained calm abiding meditation in the sixth verse of "The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer." He wrote:
"The essence of thoughts is Dharmakaya, it is said.
They are no things whatsoever, and yet they arise
For the meditator who reflects upon the arising of the unceasing display.
Grant your blessing that the indivisibility of samsara and nirvana will be realized."
If you have any questions, please ask.
Question: I don't really understand, because on the one hand we are taught to recognize thoughts as manifestations of our own mind and to let them go, but other teachers say that every thought is important, because it determines our actions. I am aware that thoughts are not different than my mind and that they arise from my mind, but aren't those understatements, seeing negative thoughts arise in my mind and upset me?
Lama Sönam: You cling to thoughts and make a big issue of them. Therefore, do not cling, but look at the present, true nature of your mind.
Same student: But thoughts are what cause one to engage in activities.
Lama Sönam: While meditating, one doesn't engage in verbal and physical activities. One gives up negative physical activities by sitting in the seven-point posture and one gives up clinging to appearances by resting in equanimity.
Student: While meditating, we pretend that thoughts make no difference, but they do, because they are the cause of negative physical and verbal actions. Does this mean that if I let go of a negative thought, then it will never cause a negative action?
Lama Sönam: That's right. If one lets go of and doesn't cling to thoughts that would otherwise lead to negative physical and verbal actions, then results arising from such actions will not be. Therefore it is good to practice meditation.
Question: Is there a relationship between stabilization of the mind and the contents of the mind? Does this mean that an enlightened person has less negative thoughts?
Lama Sönam: Yes. When you have attained realization, then you have Tog-pa, or mthong-pa. "clear seeing," i.e., you clearly and directly see the true nature of the mind.
Same student: And negative thoughts?
Lama Sönam: All negative thoughts have then ceased, never to arise again. Realization means being beyond thoughts, i.e., being beyond disturbing thoughts.
Question: What is the translation of lhag-mthong?
Lama Sönam: Lhag-mthong means "clear seeing," mthong meaning "seeing" and lhag meaning "special." In this context it means seeing what one otherwise does not see. Usually one does not see the true nature of ones mind, but through the practice of lhag-mthong one clearly sees how ones mind is and how it manifests. An advanced practitioner directly perceives that every outer and inner appearance has no truly existence and sees every appearance like the reflection of the moon on a pool of water - like a dream. One sees the reflection of the moon on a pool of water very clearly and realizes that it is just an appearance that doesn't truly exist. Seeing that is lhag-mthong.
(2) Special Insight Meditation - Lhag-mthong
Kunkhyen Bengar Jampäl Zangpo also clearly explained lhag-mthong, which in Mahamudra is actually equivalent to realization, in the sixth verse that we looked at in the discussion of shi-gnäs. The verse is:
"The essence of thoughts is Dharmakaya, it is said.
They are no things whatsoever, and yet they arise
For the meditator who reflects upon the arising of the unceasing display.
Grant your blessing that the indivisibility of samsara and nirvana will be realized."
Lhag-mthong is based upon the practice of shi-gnäs. The source of samsara is clinging to the idea about the self-sufficient existence of a self; this clinging cannot be vanquished through the practice of calm abiding meditation. Clinging to the idea that a self truly exists can only be overcome through the practice of lhag-mthong. It's impossible to practice lhag-mthong without having accomplished calm abiding. Both aspects of practice can be compared to the wings of a bird - a bird needs two wings to be able to fly. For the same reason, a devotee needs to practice shi-gnäs and lhag-mthong in order to attain Mahamudra - one needs to practice both, ideally in union.
Perfection of lhag-mthong is practiced and slowly accomplished in three stages or level. The first stage is the attainment of freedom from mental elaborations; the second is one-taste, and the third is "non-meditation" or freedom from meditation. Just like in the practices of the general and extraordinary preliminaries, one practices the latter after having perfected the former, which means to say that one needs to have accomplished calm abiding in order to benefit from practicing special insight. It is recommendable to practice analytical meditation in conjunction with calm abiding in that one watches a thought and investigates how it arises, abides, and ceases.
Freedom of mental elaborations is based upon examining where a thought comes from, where it abides, and where it goes again and upon understanding the three times (past, present, and future), which I will speak about briefly.
Usually one's thoughts concern the past, sometimes the future, and once in a while the present. Looking at it more closely, the past has passed and the future has not yet come. If one tries to cognize that which takes place in the present, one will notice that it is impossible point to it or to nail it down, because it already belongs to the past when one attempts to do so. Chasing after a thought concerning the future is also a mental fabrication. We have the strong tendency to chase after the many thoughts that we have about the past and to get lost in imaginations. We become extremely attached to those imaginations, for instance thinking, "When I was young and went to school, I did something good," or we turn red in the face and become depressed when we recollect, "I did something bad." Thoughts about pleasant or unpleasant things that happened many years ago and belong to the past come to the mind. It is the mind that doesn't stop creating these thoughts, and it is just this that gives rise to obscurations that impede seeing ones true nature.
Relatively, it is good remembering positive things one once did or recalling people's kindness in the past once in a while and rejoicing. That's why we remember the Buddha's birthday and celebrate Christmas - we bring great people's good qualities to mind and rejoice. Aber, "but," there is another aspect in that there is no benefit being attached and clinging to the good that one experienced or did in the past and there is no purpose regretting bad experiences or deeds that belong to the past and cannot be changed. In both cases, the mind is overly busy, confusion ensues, and as a result one isn't able to settle the mind in calm abiding and realize the nature of ones mind or Buddha nature. So, don't follow after and become physically involved with the past, because that would destroy your possibility to accomplish lhag-mthong, clear seeing or special insight. Chasing after thoughts about the future and turning that into a habit engenders a great variety of expectations and fears in your mind. Expectations and fear destroy your possibility to accomplish clear seeing.
As mentioned earlier, you can make a plan to engage in Mahamudra by practicing wonderful joy, for example, or by having a positive thought. It's good to make positive plans for the future and to apply them in daily life, i.e., to turn benevolent resolutions into effective actions. Becoming lost in wishful thinking gives rise to too much hope and becoming lost in misgivings gives rise to too much fear, which are not only useless but also obstacles. Hopeful and fearful thoughts flood the mind and destroy the possibility to settle the mind in calm abiding so that one can practice clearly seeing the true nature of the mind. If a disciple wishes to directly perceive the true nature of his or her mind, which is only possible after obscurations have been eliminated, then it is crucial not to chase after thoughts about the future either.
How does one deal with the present? By not becoming involved. For instance, one sees forms with ones eyes, hears sounds with ones ears, and so forth. Presently, one doesn't leave ones perception of appearances, but judges, "Oh, how pretty," or "Oh, how ugly," and labels and designates it in a great number of ways. One should refrain from judging and interpreting what one perceives, and it certainly is not necessary. When perceiving appearances, ones mind should be free from accepting or rejecting thoughts that one creates in dependence upon ones perceptions.
In fact, we all feel an insatiable urge that seems to automatically drive us to judge and manipulate whatever we perceive and experience. Perception takes place in a very short instant of time and then vanishes, followed by a succession of perceptions in an endless stream of time, each moment said to be shorter in duration than it takes to snap ones fingers. The aim of meditation practice is to be free of making judgements by refraining from either chasing after an appearance that one perceives and wishes to call ones own or rejects. Free from hope and fear, free from accepting and rejecting, an advanced practitioner abides where he or she has always been and already is - in the present moment that is authentic truthfulness.
If one is able to abide in the present and leave ones mind as it is, without struggling in an act of manipulating and polluting ones mind by judging, grasping, and clinging to perceptions and ensuing thoughts, then slowly and gradually one will see the nature of ones mind and all things. Shri Tilopa told his heart-disciple Naropa, "Son, it is not due to appearances that you are fettered, but due to clinging." By realizing that all appearances and experiences are manifestations of our own mind, we can abandon clinging to any appearance we perceive and any experience we have.
The mind's true nature is free from thoughts that something is good and something else is bad. Since forever, i.e., since time that is without a beginning, mind's true nature has been unpolluted and always has been pure and ever-present. It's always said that we do not realize our true nature because it's too near and that we tend to think that it is beyond reach. We struggle and create difficulties for ourselves in our attempt to come close to our true nature, and that is why it is taught that we should abandon thoughts about the past, present, and future. If we are able to increase and establish the ability to let the mind be just as it is, instead of manipulating it by chasing after thoughts that will always arise, then we reach the stage at which the pointing-out instructions of the Dharmakaya directly manifest to us. There are a few terms that describe the true nature of the mind and they all mean the same as Dharmakaya or luminosity.
In the verse that describes the practice of lhag-mthong, it is stated that "The essence of thoughts is Dharmakaya." When the essence becomes manifest to a practitioner, then he or she has accomplished the first stage of lhag-mthong, freedom from mental elaborations, which is realization that "They are no things whatsoever, and yet they arise for the meditator who reflects upon the arising of the unceasing display." Bengar Jampäl Zangpo tells us in these lines that if we practice the stage of freedom from mental elaborations, then we will realize the inseparability of samsara and nirvana.
This has been a short explanation on how to develop and increase ones understanding and realization of lhag-mthong by correctly dealing with the three aspects of time.
The seventh and last verse is the aspiration prayer, mön-lam in Tibetan, that we recite with sincere faith and devotion when we take ""rDo-rje- €˜Chang Thung-ma - The Short Dorje Chang Lineage Prayer" to heart. It is:
"Throughout all our births, may we not be separated
From the perfect Lama and thus enjoy the glory of the Dharma.
May we completely accomplish the qualities of the path and stages
And swiftly attain the state of Vajradhara."
We went through many points during this seminar. It would be good if you make a time-table and regularly practice for about 15 minutes each day. In the beginning, it might not be easy to engage in the first practice and proceed to the next, but if one practices regularly, it will be easier for you. Like the saying, "Practice makes perfect," you will become used to the practice and will trust that any difficulties you may encounter while practicing will decrease and eventually cease. In any case, your life will become stable and you will become more courageous through practice. Meditation is not carried out in order to rest, rather in order to make you stronger, and if that happens, then your meditation is going quite well. If you over-strain yourself by meditating for too long periods of time in one session and your mind does not connect with your practice, then you might become nervous, which is not good. Meditation practice increases your wisdom and compassion. Please don't forget this. Then you are safe, life becomes easier, and your human life becomes precious, just like the first preliminary contemplation states.
Europeans are very lucky, because many wonderful teachers come. There are no Rinpoches or Lamas in the remote village I come from, but here many Lamas visit, and you are very lucky. I'm lucky too, because I'm here, see many Lamas, and receive many instructions. But don't mix the teachings. Every teacher has a different way of presenting instructions, but you must know, "This is my practice" and stick to it. Then the instructions you receive from many Lamas do not interrupt your practice. You are free to integrate new aspects of teachings you receive if you differentiate clearly. This does not mean to say that you should not listen to the teachings that are being offered, but it would be good if they inspire you to deepen the practice that you are doing. These instructions are especially meant for my Ngöndro students so that they are more clear about the way of Mahamudra, structure their practice, and discuss any hardships that they might have with a friend, with those more experienced, or with their teacher. Jetsün Milarepa recommended: "If unpleasant experiences arise, speak about them with someone who has experience and that will help you develop your mind." Thank you very much.
Through this goodness, may omniscience be attained
And thereby may every enemy (mental defilement) be overcome.
May beings be liberated from the ocean of samsara
That is troubled by waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death.
May Bodhichitta, great and precious,
Arise where it has not arisen,
Never weakening where it has arisen.
May it grow ever more and more.
All you sentient beings I have a good or bad connection with,
as soon as you have left this confused dimension,
may you be born in the West, in Sukhavati, and once you're born there,
complete the bhumis and the paths.
May the life of the Glorious Lama remain steadfast and firm.
May peace and happiness fully arise for beings as limitless in number as space is vast in its extent.
Having accumulated merit and purified negativities, may I and all living beings without exception
swiftly establish the levels and grounds of Buddhahood.
Presented at Karma Theksum Tashi Chöling in Hamburg from Aug. 8-10, 2008. When Venerable Lama Sönam Rabgye did not teach in English, translated from Tibetan into German by Rosemarie Fuchs, who we wish to thank very much. Sincere gratitude to most Venerable Khenpo Karma Namgyal for the original Tibetan scripts in this article and to Madhavi Maren Simoneit for having generously made the recording of these teachings available. Thanks to Josef Kerklau for the photo of Lama Sönam. Translated and edited by Gabriele Hollmann, responsible for all mistakes. Copyright Acharya Lama Sönam Rabgye, Karma Lekshey Ling Institute in Kathmandu, and Karma Theksum Tashi Chöling in Hamburg, October 2008. May truthfulness increase!